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Looking after your mental health at Christmas

Written by: Fit for Work team | Posted in: Blog


‘Tis the season to be jolly, and yet Christmas is also a time of year that sees a spike in marital breakdown and, for a great many people, an increase in feelings of stress and anxiety.

It may be the over-blown expectations of children and family, the dizzying social whirl, the financial pressure of present buying and shopping for the Christmas feast, or the intensified feeling of loneliness and isolation. But wherever the stress comes from, it can create a tipping point for some people and turn what should be a festive celebration into a test of endurance.

For workers there may be the added anxiety about shift patterns, feeling forced to work on Christmas Day when you would rather be with your family, finding care for the children over the holiday or accommodating family and friends.

But help is at hand – here are some tips for coping with the added stress of the festive season.

Wrap everything up at work before the break

One of the busiest and most stressful times of the year can be the run up to holidays when you may be faced with clearing the work on your desk and preparing plans for someone to take on your work while you are away.

  • Plan your leave: Take time out to look at what you have to do before you go on your break. Make a list.
  • Prioritise: Do you really have to complete that list now? Or can some things wait until the New Year?
  • Delegate: By planning a few weeks ahead you may realise that you really haven’t got time to do everything. Ask for support from your line manager – someone may be able to help or you may find that important tasks could, in fact, be left until later.
  • Manage expectations: Be realistic with managers about what you can deliver, and when.
  • Plan for your return after the holiday: Leave a couple of days free of deadlines and meetings so you can hit the ground running when you get back. List the work you put off until you get back so that nothing gets forgotten.
  • Take breaks from work: As always, breaks from work are important for you to remain on top of your game. Remember that exercise and fresh air will refresh you and help your concentration.

Don’t look back

Just being away from the office doesn’t stop most people from thinking about work, but putting work considerations behind you during your break will allow you to have a greater chance of enjoying the Christmas celebrations. Don’t look at work emails, or limit the time you spend on them.

Pace yourself

Be honest with yourself and friends. You’re likely to be tired having worked hard since the summer so you might not want to be the life and soul of every party or celebration. Prioritise the events you want to attend, and cancel plans if you need to. Less can often mean more. Remember to make time for yourself and don’t try and please everyone else all of the time. It’s your holiday too – so don’t feel guilty about looking after yourself.

Keep a lid on your spending

The financial pressure of Christmas can be a major source of stress, so plan ahead, save and stick to your budget. A little careful thought early on can save a lot of money and avoid last minute panic buying, which is never good for the wallet.

Eat, drink and be moderate in all things

Drinking goes hand in hand with celebrating in our culture and is generally considered to be a good way to relax. But the heavy social whirl of Christmas can mean that drinking can escalate and hangovers can take their toll. Go easy and remember to include some dry nights in your social calendar.

Don’t forget that alcohol can act as a depressant and that drinking excessively can cause mood swings, irritability and trigger aggressive behaviour. By keeping within the recommended drinking levels of less than 14 units/week for both men and women, you will have a better chance of maintaining your mental and physical wellbeing.

The same advice goes for eating. Try not to over-indulge and stick to regular meals and avoid sweet treats where possible. Maintaining a healthy diet will improve your mood and reduce symptoms of lethargy and irritability that over eating can bring on.

Exercise (and rest)

Don’t stagnate. Get out, exercise and try to avoid over-indulging on the box sets. Physical activity releases endorphins (the ‘feel good chemicals’), which boost your mood and increase your sense of happiness and wellbeing. Taking a family walk in the park, going for a cycle, or joining in with Christmas games is all good for taking your mind off work, reducing anxiety, improving self-esteem and beating any feelings of negativity. But sleep is important too. Being rested helps you enjoy Christmas, so try to resist the temptation to stay up late too often.

Help is at hand

Try to learn to recognise signs of stress or mental health issues as they begin, and develop mechanisms to cope such as deep breathing or other relaxation techniques (e.g. yoga or mindfulness). Talk to family and friends and consider professional help if low mood or anxiety persist.

Fit for Work offers free, online work-related health advice and guidance to anyone looking for advice and support about an existing case of sickness absence, or about issues that may result in sickness absence.  To find out more, visit the website or call the free telephone advice line on 0800 032 6235 (English), 0800 032 6235 (Cymraeg). There is a separate service running in Scotland (0800 019 2211).

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